As humans we inherit a fallen nature and live in a fallen world. When we commit our lives in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and become Christians, the Bible states that Christ is “faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Christ forgives our sins and indwells in us, imparting His Holy Spirit, but we are by no means now immune from sinning.
Whilst we live in this earthly, human existence we will always be tempted to sin and have to battle between our corrupt nature and our Christ-like nature. As we mature in Christ, we gain wisdom and experience in fighting these battles, but temptation is something we will always face.
A former pastor of mine used to talk about temptations falling into three categories: “the gals, the gold and the glory.” I recently viewed a video of well-known Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who echoed these sentiments, describing three areas of temptation which commonly cause the Christian to move away from God: sensuality, power, and materialism.
Sensuality tells us “If it feels good, do it. Everyone else is doing it, so why not?
Materialism tells us “If you really want it, have it.”
Power tells us “You get to call the shots. You’re number one. You beat everyone else.”
The commonality with all these things is focus on self. We indulge ourselves with pride, food, sex, accolades, status symbols and so much more. Even something negative like self-pity or hypochondria can take on a life of its own and become a little god in the life of a person. And without Christ as the focus of our lives, any other fulfilment will be only temporary.
It’s not a sin to be tempted. The Bible tells us;
“No temptation has seized you that isn't common for people. But God is faithful. He won't allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Sin lies not in being tempted but in giving in to temptation and acting upon it. A common sequence of occurrence is thought becoming word becoming action. Therefore I have a few suggestions to consider in relation to temptation:
A) Think about what you are thinking about. You can walk the walk and talk the talk, but do you thought the thought? Is your mind right with God? Do you smile outwardly but criticize and nag inwardly? What is your internal voice saying?
Try to think of your thoughts as a constant prayer to God. Is He hearing you praise Him inwardly? Are you counting your blessings? Think too about the conversations you have. Do they tend to become negative? Get into the habit of “pulling yourself up.” Think about Paul’s directive to the church in Philippi:
“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Philippians 4:8).”
B) Work out for yourself the areas in which you struggle with temptation. Be honest with yourself. Then decide beforehand ahead of time that you are going to do the right thing by God. When you are tempted, remember your resolve and stick to it.
C) Remove yourself if necessary from the situation which is offering temptation. If you are recovering from alcoholism, it wouldn’t be a very good idea to walk past a hotel on your way to work every day. In the same way, if you know you have a difficult time avoiding getting onto certain internet sites, put filters on your computer and leave them on. If you have a legitimate need to use a computer, have a bookmark menu with the necessary sites and stick to them. If necessary, turn off the computer and walk away.
If you are married and find that you are strongly attracted to someone else, keep contact to a minimum. Don’t be alone together. If necessary move completely away. Far better to change jobs or churches or neighbourhoods than to destroy lives through an affair.
D) Every choice has consequences. Consider the long and short-term effects of your decisions and what the consequences will be. Remember that God’s goal is to bless you and give you hope and purpose for your life. Satan’s goal is the reverse- to destroy and enslave you. Many sins have a flow-on effect to others, and often it’s our beloved children and even their children who suffer as a consequence.
Not only are relationships destroyed but our witness as Christians suffers when a Christian sins. Ministry opportunities are destroyed and Christ’s church is held up to ridicule.
However, when a Christian resists temptation, this can be a powerful testimony for Christ. The Christian who is honest in his business dealings in the face of bribery and corruption; or the Christian who refuses to join in the office gossip may well be sowing seeds of the gospel into the lives of his or her associates.
E) Get help if you need it. Acknowledging a problem and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. There are many associations which specialise in treating particular disorders and addictions, or behaviours such as aggression and anger. Help and support can be sought online, or your pastor may be able to advise of Christian counselling in your area which could be beneficial.
F) Get close to God. I’ve left the best till last. Get to know God through prayer and meditation on Godly things, reading His word, the Bible and through connection with other Christians in a church community. The more you know God, the more there is to know, and the more you discover just how wonderful He is. It becomes a joy and blessing to serve Him and do His will.
When we are familiar with the Bible, there may be verses that speak to us in connection with areas of our lives where we are tempted. The psalmist tells “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)
When we love God, the love He imparts changes our hearts and gives us a heart for others, as well as ourselves. We serve others and sacrifice for them. We want the best for them.